The fear factor in SF/F publishing and fandom

Sarah Hoyt did a bang-up job highlighting this in one of her recent blog posts. She talked about how she had to constantly watch herself: what she said, who she associated with, what signs she might give the editors or the other authors or even the fans that Sarah was the “wrong” kind of writer. I know what Sarah is talking about, on a very intimate level. Sarah’s not kidding. In fact, she’s almost being too nice about it. The field (of SF/F publishing and fandom) is soaked with fear. Moreso now than — I dare say — at any time in its history.

I think part of it comes from our general societal fear factor. Activists of all stripes have discovered that — through the magic of the internet — even very small fringe groups can make themselves appear more substantial, by crowd-sourcing their efforts and using Alinsky-style tactics to threaten and punish businesses, politicians, public figures, actors, musicians, comedians, writers, you name it. If there is somebody capable of being pissed off at a thing in this world, that somebody is (at this very moment) staging, or preparing to stage, a letter-writing campaign, a boycott, a comment thread mob, a twitter storm, or some other type of harassment designed to shut the target down. Force the target into the defensive posture. Make the target apologize, capitulate, scrape his belly, mewl for forgiveness, etc.

And the sad part is: this usually works. Folks know that behind every activist mob, there is the threat of a) bad publicity and b) a law suit. Folks don’t like either of those things. So if push comes to shove, a targeted business or individual will almost always try to give the plaintiffs what they want. Either in the form of superficial concessions, or worse yet, by converting and flying the plaintiffs’ own flag — See, world? We’ve changed! We’re one of the good guys now! Not like all these other evil people who’ve not seen the light! Forward, comrades!

Nobody is safe. Not in any area of our world. Witness the poor comet probe scientist who was mobbed and shamed into a tearful Soviet-style mea culpa by the so-called feminist activists — who were outraged that he had worn a loud bowling shirt with James Bond style women depicted in the print. Such a shirt would not have caused anyone to bat an eyelash 20 years ago. Now? Now, it’s a hanging offense.

So, what we’re seeing in SF/F isn’t confined to just SF/F. This is a pandemic problem across the culture as a whole.

It’s bleakly ironic, too, because of all the fields that should be fighting this Maoist-flavor “cultural revolution” with tooth-and-nail tenacity, it ought to be SF/F. Aren’t we the dangerous genre? Aren’t we the genre who proudly flaunted tradition and censorship and restrictions, from the pulp era right up to the present? Didn’t we flip the bird at convention, at conformist thinking, and McCarthyist silencing of “wrong” voices?

Alas, SF/F has drunk the fear kool-aid too.

In my short time in the field as a pro, I have been cautioned extensively to not rock the boat, not make people mad, not say the wrong thing, not publish with the wrong people, not associate with the wrong friends, and not make the wrong editors mad at me. Because apparently my every move is under scrutiny. And always was. Even going back to before I hit print.

Anecdote: I got savaged (as a fan!) in the letters column of Scott Edelman’s Science Fiction Weekly for daring to express the opinion that Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica was not, in fact, a racist hell-hole. Even my wife (who has more literal skin in the game than me) said she thought BSG was A-OK. It didn’t matter to the activists. I had expressed “incorrectness” in my push-back against the charges leveled against Moore. And I was treated to a running exchange of sniffy, churlish, haughty barbs and arrows. All because I — then, as a fan — dared to speak up in defense of a program which I felt didn’t deserve the rancor being directed against it.

That was a huge bellwether. A sign of what was to come. It’s been ten years since that particular exchange took place, and though Science Fiction Weekly is sadly no more, the attitudes — the self-assigned police of correctness — have flourished. Gained new sympathizers and megaphones and allies in high places.

Such that, now, the field doesn’t want to be dangerous. It wants to be safe. It wants to be sanitary and clean and properly in tune with whatever it is the police of correctness say it should be in tune with.

You can’t be a free thinker or a free speaker in that environment, without consequences.

Some of those consequences are (as threatened by the soul cops):

● Getting blacklisted at or kicked out of publisher(s).

● Getting blacklisted at or kicked out of convention(s).

● Getting blacklisted by or boycotted by consumer(s).

● Getting targeted and harassed by blog and twitter mobs.

● Having your family or friends harassed by blog and twitter mobs.

● Having your personal details and private info “doxxed” for all the world to see.

● Financial vandalism (if they can get your SS# and bank and credit accounts).

● Workplace jeopardy (they threaten your employer with bad PR — or worse — so your employer lets you go.)

And there are even more dire consequences. If you believe that’s even possible. And it is. But this is the state of fear. This is the gut-level anxiety and panic-inducing leverage that the commissars of correctness levy against you as both a fan, and as a producer of product. If you fail to demonstrate correctness in your words, your actions, and your associations, you are putting yourself on a dunking machine chair. And they are going to hurl all the baseballs they can get their hands on, until you’ve been sufficiently drowned.

This is done for the sake of “inclusivity” or so we are told.

This is done because “safety” is paramount: for people who need the world bubble-wrapped, foam-padded, and child-proofed before they dare step outside their front doors.

This is done because it’s “good manners” and we are told — by people who rejoice in being snide, hostile, smarmy, cutting, critical, peevish, ad hominem assholes — that no decent human being can possibly be opposed to good manners.

Now, maybe I am naive, but 23 years ago (when I first dreamed up the crazy idea to get into this business) I thought the field was a chummy place with overflowing camaraderie. The anecdotes of authors like Larry Niven certainly made it seem so. Worldcon (the World Science Fiction Convention) was touted as the epicenter of all things hip and cool and fun and amazing in the field. And I believe that it once was that, perhaps at a time when people weren’t so obsessed with correctness. When having a difference of opinion was not a sin that got you sent to the social media guillotine.

But that time is over.

This is the oh-so-correct 21st century. Where one of my colleagues can be moved to tears because she is terrified of expressing her Mormon values, lest her friends and peers in our business shun and shame her for not being correct. Where whether or not you can be successful with a publishing house depends on how chameleon-like you can become, in order to reflect back to the editor(s) the ideologies and allegiances those editor(s) want you to reflect. Where “social justice” has become a banner of immunity, justifying outlandish character assassination, baseless slander, and the ruining of reputations. Think I am kidding? Look what happened to Jean Rabe, Barry Malzberg, and Mike Resnick, when they were punished for using phrases like “lady editor” in a column about the history of the field. And those three are veterans of many decades! If they can get carved up like turkeys — by SFWA, the field’s so-called union for professionals — for the tiniest of perceived infractions, what hope is there for a new person?

Again, it’s sickly ironic that our field — the field that ought to be rallying to oppose correctness in any and all enforced forms — has become so thoroughly infested with this mindset.

I am amazed any new people dare attempt to break in at all. I mean, it seemed bad when I was trying to break in, but it’s extra-bad now. Don’t say the wrong thing. Don’t anger the wrong people. Don’t publish with the wrong publishers. Don’t question the bullshit that stinks right in front of your face. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t rattle the cage. And whatever you do, don’t write the wrong stories.

The last is perhaps the most heinous. Don’t write the wrong stories?? Yes, friends, don’t write the wrong stories. For all definitions of “wrong” that include, “Whatever the commissars of correctness feel like making ‘wrong’ this week.”

I keep hoping we’ve reached a tipping point. That the field as a whole has become so strangled by this correctness disease, that people of conscience are standing up and saying, “Enough.” In some ways, that’s what Sad Puppies 3 is about: peeling the field’s top award out of the hands of the commissars of correctness. But really, even if the Hugos tipped into the sea and vanished forever, the fear would remain. As long as new authors have to worry about anything other than perfecting their storytelling craft. No new author should have to be afraid of what might happen if it’s found out (s)he belongs to a given social group, a given political party, a given religion, a given ideology, or have worked with a given professional(s) or publisher(s).

No. New. Author. That fear is a giant red flag. It’s a sign that the field has lost its way in a very dreadful fashion. This field — above almost all others — should never have fear as a front-door component. Either explicitly, or tacitly.

Perhaps all it takes is for people (us folks who are now on the inside, and working) to simply refuse to play the game? Stop caring about the threats? A threat is only effective if it can demoralize you to the point that you act in the way the threateners want you to act. The commissars don’t have to work very hard if all they have to do is burp in your direction, and you run away frightened; or drop to your knees to beg forgiveness.

Many writers simply don’t have the intestinal fiber to face the commissars. Many writers go into writing — and SF/F in particular — because confrontations of this sort are mind-bendingly uncomfortable. They’d rather get a tooth drilled without the benefit of lidocaine. Go face-to-face with loud and obnoxious critics? Nope, nope, nope. It’s too scary. They will ruin your career. You will be shame-shunned. Or is it shun-shamed? Shamey-shunned? The Shameyshunnyshame? Whatever you want to call it, many people will simply keep their heads down and hope they don’t become a target of opportunity.

Many other writers are themselves the threateners, and actively prey on the fear they know permeates the atmosphere. Either because they are true believers in whatever The Cause™ requires, or (very often) because they want to pose as “good guys” who may or may not actually believe the doctrine of the commissars, but it’s important to be seen as a “proper” person who abides all the rules, speaks the correct stuff, and therefore won’t be targeted.

Me? My cohorts in Sad Puppies? We’ve decided that some things are worth the personal risk. We’re done with playing the game. We’re calling out the fear-mongers and we’re saying, “Go to hell, you can’t stop us, because you were never as powerful as you thought you were.”

And it’s true. A lot of this correctness crap is a tissue. A smokescreen. The CHORFs, the Social Justice scolds, the taste-maker poseurs, et al., it’s like an overlapping venn diagram of noxious people. But they rely greatly on all of us being too timid, or too career and reputation-conscious, to risk the blowback. Maybe if I was still a hopeful 18 year old I’d be too spooked to stick my neck out. But I’ve lived too much life to let the commissars have this field uncontested. It’s time to make SF/F live up to its reputation again. As the dangerous field. Yes, dangerous even to — or should I say, especially to? — anyone who tries to use fear and intimidation and exclusion as a tactic. The commissars can’t win if we don’t let them. Enough with making things safe. Spit on your hands. Run up the flags and sails of freedom. Get this ship out of the doldrums of correctness. Put it back onto the high seas where it belongs.

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CHORF, it’s a word now

Mordecai: dude, we need a new word.

Rigby: awww, what? Why?

Mordecai: because people are right, SMOF is taken. Can’t use it.

Rigby: but I thought SMOF was awesome! I mean, awesome, for, like, bad.

Mordecai: I know, so did I, but some people don’t use it that way.

Rigby: so what other word can we use?

Mordecai: we need something visceral. Something with punch.

Rigby: I know, how about DORKS!

Mordecai: dude, what does that even stand for anyway?

Rigby: (blinks) it has to stand for something?

Mordecai: dude, that’s the rules.

Rigby: Doofus Operators ummmm . . . doofus . . . ummmm . . . Doofus —

Mordecai: Wait, how about KLAWDZ?

Rigby: And what does that stand for?

Mordecai: I dunno, but it’s spelled cool.

Rigby: KREEPZ!

Mordecai: JURKZ!

Rigby: MORAWNZ!

Mordecai: wait, this is dumb, we’re just saying stuff. Our word has to really mean something.

Rigby: so, like, what then?

Mordecai: (eyes brighten) dude, I’ve got it. CHORFs.

Rigby: no dude, not all over the game console!

Mordecai: wait, listen. Cliquish, Holier-than-thou, Obnoxious, Reactionary, Fanatics.

Rigby: (stunned) dude . . . . that’s IT!

Mordecai: I know, right?

Rigby: (smiling) You are such a CHORF!

Mordecai: (also smiling) this place is totally CHORFed, I’m outta here.

Rigby: CHORF off, man!

Mordecai: CHORF you, man!

Rigby: go CHORF yourself!

Mordecai: dude, where’s the bathroom, I’m gonna totally CHORF!

Rigby: OOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHH!

Mordecai: OOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Former TOR editor still longs to gatekeep the field

I don’t usually take to fisking the comments of others in the field, but the recent words of Teresa Nielsen-Hayden simply demand it. Since my inception as a professional, I have made the case for an “open” system. No barriers. Not on writers, and not on fans. Publish, connect with your audience (for fun and profit!) and for God’s sake, no more gatekeeping of the “ghetto” that is the literary Science Fiction and Fantasy field. Writers are writers are writers, and fans are fans are fans. My reasoning along these lines is not original to me. Others were saying similar things ten-plus years ago. But now it’s gotten to the point that certain would-be gatekeepers have become so thoroughly convinced of their station — and so absolutely sure of your unworthiness to partake — that it’s time to stand up.

Sad Puppies 3 terrifies CHORF queen (and former TOR editor) Teresa Nielsen-Hayden because she knows that TruFans (the dyed-in-the-wool, insular, legacy group of fans who cluster about World Science Fiction Convention) are a dying breed. She knows that if enough glare is placed on the award (the Hugos) and enough “outside” fans (you and me and the rest of the universe) come to claim our place, then TruFans are done. Their relevance will be at an end. They had a good run, got big heads, decided they could begin trashing whomever they felt like, and now the mask is being cast off — at the end, when TruFans are imperiled by the harsh light of reality.

TNH: I should have been clearer. Those of us who love SF and love fandom know in our hearts that the Hugo is ours. One of the most upsetting things about the Sad Puppy campaigns is that they’re saying the Hugo shouldn’t belong to all of us, it should just belong to them.

This is a very Kafka-esq example of narrative-spinning. Sad Puppies 3 has always been about bringing new people to the Hugo process; from the very start. We never said the Hugo was ours, nor did we claim it should be ours. We claimed it belonged to no single person, nor any special group. It was (and is) the award of the field. Of all Science Fiction & Fantasy. It’s not Teresa’s personal property. It is not the property of the TruFans. Nor the CHORFs. Teresa is not even playing for the undecideds at this point, because this is pure dog-whistling for the other TruFen; the people who’ve convinced themselves that they (and they alone) are the only ones who can appreciate, love, or enjoy, SF/F. Teresa is telling a fairy tale for the morale of TruFans, because Teresa knows the cause is lost. The flame of the TruFen is dying. No more gatekeepers. No more CHORFs. No more big fish in small fishbowls. No more taste-making.

TNH: When I say the Hugos belong to the worldcon, I’m talking about the literal legal status of the award. But I also know that one of the biggest reasons the rocket is magic is because it spiritually belongs to all of us who love SF.

You hear that, fans? We don’t count. The Hugo is Teresa’s personal prize. Hers, and that of the other TruFen and CHORFs. Nobody who voted for or supports Sad Puppies 3 loves SF. Teresa herself — the queen CHORF — has declared it. Nobody who hasn’t been properly inculcated into fandom to Teresa’s satisfaction will ever be allowed to love SF/F the way Teresa and her fellow TruFen love it. All you Dragoncon fans? You don’t count. All you Comic Con fans? You don’t count either. In fact, nobody who ever fell in love with SF/F beyond the borders of Teresa’s fiefdom (at Worldcon) gets to love SF/F like she and the TruFen love it.

There’s a few words for that kind of attitude. One of them is delusional. The other is snobbish. And those are the polite words. I am sure you can think of others, perhaps more apt than I’ve used. Again, Teresa is dog-whistling to the faithful — as the ship slowly sinks beneath their feet, they move the chairs and tables aside for one last glorious dance on the aft deck.

TNH: I’ve been thinking about the aspects of the Sad Puppy campaigns that bother me most. So far there are three. First, there’s the Best Related Work category. That’s where the reference works wind up. Good reference books are labors of love, especially that last 10% of quality that takes 50% of the total labor. People who create reference books get one shot at the Hugo.

Yes, Teresa, that’s clearly why Chicks Dig Time Lords beat The Resnick & Malzberg Dialogues for Best Related Work. Because TruFans are so obviously devoted to scholarly, serious discussion and inspection of the field.

TNH: Second, the nominees on the Sad Puppy slate who got onto the ballot. Indications are that a fair number of them, maybe a majority, are respectable members of the SF community who, for one reason or another, are approved of by the SPs while not being ideologically Sad Puppies themselves. This means they’ve dreamed of winning the Hugo, just like all our other writers and artists and editors. They might not have had any real expectation of winding up on the ballot this year, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t wish for it with all the pure luminous desire of Ralphie wishing for a Red Ryder BB gun. They’ve been put in a horrible position. I mean, I’ve wanted a Hugo since I was in middle school, but I dreamed of being given one by SF community, not Larry Correia.

Teresa has no clue whatsoever how completely tired of the TruFan attitude many of my colleagues are. Some of them had given up long ago of ever being close to a Hugo. Not because they didn’t merit inclusion on a final ballot. But because the attitudes, biases, and blind spots of TruFans and CHORFs had become so predictable and shopworn, what point was there in hoping? We didn’t have to do much coaxing to get people onboard for Sad Puppies 3. Our policy was plain: we want good works from good authors regardless of ideology, and who’d be predictably passed over. Either because they’d been unfairly and endlessly passed over before (again: predictable biases) or because they were still new enough to be relatively buried in the “white noise” that comes with being new. Every person (and every work) on our slate, is a work that is deserving. In many instances, we feel these men and women are far, far, far overdue for recognition — when it comes to the field’s so-called “most prestigious award.” We also knew that Teresa and other TruFan CHORFs would have a come-apart — that anyone would dare tamper with the blessed status quo. Despite the fact a small mountain of writers, artists, and editors all hate and detest the status quo.

TNH: I think at least two of those nominees turned down the nomination. I hope they someday get a real one.

Because Teresa is used to the behind-the-scenes (and rather Machiavellian) nature of CHORF politics, I am sure it’s shocking for her to see us doing honestly and openly, what’s been done by CHORFs and TruFans for years. But notice how she’s already teed up the asterisk: assuming anyone on Sad Puppies 3 is a Hugo final ballot nominee — to say nothing of a winner — Teresa and the CHORFs and TruFans will stamp (in their minds) an asterisk next to the name of that work, or that author. One also guesses they will waste no opportunity to use the internet, and other resources, to decry and de-legitimize the winners. The TruFen and CHORFs don’t care if the potential nominee or winner actually deserves to get the nomination or the win. The nomination or the win were not vetted and approved by Teresa, TruFen, and CHORFs. So they will hiss and boo good men and women (who tell good stories!) for the sake of their tattered, soiled, smelly CHORF cred; as taste-makers.

And these are the people who praise themselves for being “inclusive.” Are you convinced yet? No, I am not either.

TNH: Third, the ballot itself. This grows out of wondering why so many Sad Puppies are suddenly out and about on forums they don’t normally frequent, belatedly spreading this new and not very believable line about how the whole Sad Puppy thing is motivated by love, rather than spite and resentment. They sure haven’t felt the need to spread this line before now. Neither have they put a lot of effort into hiding the spite and resentment.

Don’t look now, Teresa, but is your whole song and dance about, “We didn’t approve this, we didn’t approve you, we don’t approve, we don’t approve, we don’t approve,” winning you any hearts and minds beyond CHORFville?

Consider something Teresa moaned about earlier:

#499 Teresa Nielsen Hayden – March 29, 2015, 03:43 PM: Why are people talking about what would happen if everyone who reads SF voted in the Hugos? IMO, it’s not a relevant question. The Hugos don’t belong to the set of all people who read the genre; they belong to the worldcon, and the people who attend and/or support it. The set of all people who read SF can start their own award.

Again, the message is plain: get out of our sand box, you other kids from somewhere else. This is our toy, our sand box, our rules, and you don’t get to have it. You don’t count. You don’t matter. Go find your own sand box and your own toy. We don’t like you anyway, and we never did.

Yup. Inclusive. With a tazer gun.

TNH: If the SPs got all or most of their slate onto the ballot, and those people had their nominations confirmed by the Hugo administrators, and they were comparing notes behind the scenes, they’d be uniquely able to reconstruct most or all of the final ballot. So. I think they’ve succeeded in f*cking up the ballot beyond all expectation, and they know the SF community is going to explode when we see it. Look at Brad Torgersen’s first comment in this thread. I couldn’t figure out what he was on about when he first posted it. Now I think it’s one big steaming pile of special pleading from start to finish, all of it intended to deflect fannish wrath when the ballot’s announced.

Again, here we have the admission that Teresa and the other TruFans know they are standing on the aft deck of a sinking ship. She’s a CHORF. A TruFan. You bet your bottom dollar she and her husband have been comparing behind-the-scenes notes with anyone and everyone willing to share them. That’s what CHORFs do: operate behind the scenes. The above paragraph tells me Teresa is distraught, because what she’s hearing from her friends and her cohort is not good news. Not for the TruFan mentality, which believes that only TruFans (aka: Teresa Nielsen-Hayden clones) are worthy enough to be “real” Science Fiction & Fantasy fans. The cage has been badly rattled. Perhaps even broken? Yellow alert! Yellow alert! The CHORFs are losing control of their own award! It’s the CHORFpocalypse!

Or, maybe, it’s the inevitable dividend of too many years of too many fans and authors alike, getting short shrift. Of watching the field’s “most prestigious award” get stuck in a rut from which it seemingly might not ever recover. Because the real world of “big” SF/F had drifted so far from the “little” world of CHORFdom and TruFen, that nobody in the big world gave a damn about the Hugos anymore, thus the little world got to have the award (and by extension: the field) all to itself. “Normal” fans could get lost. Take a hike. Inclusivity was only a patina, for its own sake. The TruFen were going to keep their “in” crowd and their “in” award, and everyone else didn’t matter.

Well, guess what, Teresa. We matter.

We. Matter. In fact, we have always mattered. Everyone who ever came to love and cherish SF/F in ways not vetted and approved by you, by TruFans, or by CHORFs.

And we’re not going away. Not this year. Not next year. Not the year after that.

We’re not here to destroy the field, nor the Hugos.

We’re here to keep you from greedily clutching the award to your chest, while the field sinks beneath the waves.

AFTERNOON EDIT: after much cogent discussion on Facebook, and in the comments, there seems to be substantial logical evidence for changing the acronym SMOF to something else; since some people use the acronym in the positive sense, versus the negative sense. And this piece is not aimed at people who simply work hard to make conventions happen. I know many people who throw a lot of work into local cons here in Utah, and though they’ve never used SMOF (that I am aware of) I don’t want to paint with a brush that’s broader than necessary. So, I would like to birth a brand new acronym into the lexicon of the field. CHORF: Cliquish Holier-than-thou Obnoxious Reactionary Fanatic. Yes, I think that fits the bill nicely. As opposed to the SMOF, who may simply be toiling with diligence, a CHORF is somebody who’s all about fan politics, being a decider of who is and is not a fan, who gets to dominate the fan cliques, who is and is not a taste-maker, and so forth.

Defenders of the nail house

We’re about a week out from the release of the final ballot results, for the 2015 Hugo awards. These results will determine which picks are available for your choosing when it comes time for you to cast your ballot. Best Novel, Best Short Story, etc. Already, the critics of Sad Puppies 3 have been laying the groundwork for de-legitimizing SP3. To include statements which completely misunderstand the point of Sad Puppies. Some of it is innocent. Not everybody’s had time to do a deep-dig on the history of Sad Puppies, nor to be able to discern that each iteration of the project has tended to assume its own personality. What they’re hearing about SP3 is probably hear-say from friends, and much of that is at least one to two years out-of-date. And even then, many of the “facts” put forth, are demonstrably wrong.

But other commentary is not so innocent. There are people who find the very existence of Sad Puppies 3 to be an affront to their personhoods. A sinister outside force come to trouble their precious genre and its establishment. For the people deliberately misconstruing the purpose and thrust of Sad Puppies 3, it’s all about getting out in front and shaping a narrative. They’re smart. They know that truth can be overwhelmed with lies if you just spin your narrative adroitly, and with enough volume.

Thus the charges, in no particular order.

● SP3 is a trojan horse effort conducted by and for the benefit of authors who cannot earn a Hugo award the honest way.

● SP3 is just ballot-stuffing, which ought to be disallowed according to precedent and the rules of ballot-counting established through WSFS.

● SP3 is artificially trying to warp the Hugos out of true; an outside effort conducted by and involving people who are not real fans.

● The SP3 slate works are substandard based on (insert garbledy-garble talk about taste here.)

● The SP3 slate is just a bunch of right-wingers who should go set up their own awards, and leave the Hugos alone.

● SP3 is not legit because its participants were drafted for the effort, and are not willing participants.

● SP3 is not legit because Larry Correia is a terrible human being who is hated by all real fans.

● SP3 is not legit because Vox Day is also running Rabid Puppies and everybody knows Vox Day is also a terrible human being who is hated by all real fans.

● SP3 is a trojan horse for GamerGaters, and all real fans hate and loathe GamerGaters.

● SP3 is just a bunch of straight white guys who are terrified of women, gays, trans, and folks with brown skin.

● SP3 would never happen in the first place if (resurrected conservative editor of the past) could lecture them about their wrongdoing.

● SP3 is a fringe minority faction that does not represent the “main body” of real fans.

● SP3’s slate selections are not the “natural” selections of real fans.

There’s more, but I think you get the gist of it.

Much of this is simply the “in” crowd reacting badly to watching the “out” crowd take a seat at the lunch table. As I’ve mentioned before in this space, according to the dyed-in-the-wool denizens of WSFS and Worldcon, a “real fan” is defined as someone who has been attending Worldcon (and other cons) for a long time, has been properly inculcated into the specific culture of Worldcon and con-going fandom, is someone who volunteers time and effort to cons, generally makes Worldcon (and con-going) a “family” affair, etc. So if you don’t go to Worldcon and you’ve not been part of that culture for a number of years, you don’t qualify as a “real fan” in their definition. And they resent the hell out of anyone who is not a “real fan” showing up to vote on the “real fan” award.

Thing is, the “in” crowd numbers less than ten thousand total, across the entire globe. At any given Worldcon, perhaps half the attendees can actually claim to be regular Worldcon members, and maybe half of those will actually bother to cast a nominating or a final ballot for the Hugos. So, the so-called “most prestigious award” of the entirety of Science Fiction and Fantasy — movies, books, stories, television, music, non-fiction, et al. — is selected according to the tastes and desires of about 2,500 individuals.

Which is roughly equivalent to one quarter of the upper bowl at your typical NCAA Final Four game.

Or about 3.1% of the crowd packed into the stadium at Superbowl XLIX.

Given the fact SF/F can reasonably argue for a consumer base that numbers at least five hundred million people world-wide, it’s a little strange that “real fans” want to keep “the most prestigious award” in the field to themselves.

Or, perhaps it’s not strange at all.

See, Worldcon is like the proverbial nail house. In the 1950s it was nestled in among the fresh post-war suburbs, bright and pretty. The people who lived there were young, or at least younger than they are now, and quite proud of their house and its vibrant, if eccentric, collective personality. For much of the 1960s and into the 1970s, the little house retained most of its original flavor. New folks were brought in, some of the originals left, or died. The culture and basic mindset of the house was kept the same. And everything seemed more or less fine . . . until a guy named George Lucas showed up with his gargantuan set of plans for a huge, gleaming city called Star Wars. Suddenly, skyscrapers and apartment complexes and freeways and all manner of businesses began to shoot up around the house. Until, in the year 2015, the house has become an anachronism. Cheered by a few. Ignored by most. Intensely proud of the fact it defies the world around it. Crumbling at the foundation. And also intensely interested in making sure nobody from the sports bar or the yoga studio or the Gold’s Gym down the street, comes into the little dilapidated house, and puts his or her feet up on the use-worn coffee table.

Because anyone who is not a blooded member of the nail house, doesn’t get to be a “real fan.”

But the award for “real fans” gets to be “the most prestigious award” in SF/F.

See how that works, folks? It’s Taste-Maker 101 strategy. A few, deciding for all.

You’re the outsiders. You are not the real fans. You don’t get to have a say in the Hugos, because you’re not welcome at the table. You haven’t been to two dozen Worldcons and volunteered a thousand hours in various chore-laden positions on the concom or the gofer staff. You didn’t earn your cred, man! Get off their lawn, man! Screw you guys and your video games and your 21st century pop culture sci-fi! So you like The Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe? You’ve got a Storm Trooper costume? Maybe you play Skyrim or Borderlands? Puh-leaze! That doesn’t count. Only real fans get to decide what SF/F is important and worthy of recognition! The other 399,997,500 “fans” out there? You didn’t pay your dues. You don’t belong.

And so the little nail house shutters its windows and boards up its doors. Happily thumbing its nose at the bustling, packed metroplis that has grown up around the eyesore.

Sad Puppies dares to propose that the packed metropolis is every bit as valid as the nail house. That the guy from the sports bar or the Gold’s Gym is every bit as much of a fan, as anyone in the nail house. That the tastes and enthusiasms of the gleaming metropolis count every bit as much as the retiree in the nail house. And while nail houses are fun–yeah, stick it to The Man!–sometimes the nail house attitude of “in” versus “out” is merely a colossal waste of time; if not a complete pain in the ass.

Nobody in the nail house owns fandom. You are a fan if you say you are a fan, and nobody is authorized to take that away from you. Therefore you are also authorized to have your voice heard in the field. You: the guy who maybe never went to a single con, but you’ve got dozens of SF/F novels on your bookshelves, and a DVD or BluRay library filled with spec fic and fantasy movies. You also: the girl who loves paranormal romance, and watches Adventure Time with your kids, and once did cosplay at the regional Comic Con. Or you too: the dude who plays all the latest video games, and can recite line-for-line the script from the latest comic book hero movie.

So really, almost all of the complaints against SP3, can be boiled down to folks in the nail house needing to invent reasons why “invaders” are bad. Morally bad. Ethically bad. Tramplers of propriety. Ruffians without regard for rules. The unwashed. The unclean. Scoundrels.

You, my friends, have been declared unfit company. Do you let the nail house win? Or do you fight to keep your place at the lunch table?

As for the rest of it:

● If it’s a trojan horse for authors, it’s a six-headed horse with three legs, two wheels, a unicorn horn, two cloven hooves, and a whale tail. In other words, a more clumsy trojan horse could not be invented. Sometimes, when we tell you it ‘aint about us, you just have to take our word for it.

● Annie Bellet and Kary English would be shocked to discover they are right-wing. So would Chuck Gannon and Jim Butcher. Rajnar Vajra too.

● We trust Sasquan to run their own con without any “helpful advice” from people who think Sasquan is not grown-up enough to manage its own Hugos. A membership is a membership is a membership, and a vote is a vote is a vote. Inventing technical reasons to toss votes is an admission that the defenders of the nail house aren’t interested in a democratic system as much as they’re interested in a system that protects the status quo as they prefer it.

● It’s true I did forget to obtain explicit permission (for slate inclusion) from three specific authors of which I am aware. Two of them asked to be taken off the list, which was done early and without rancor. One of them happily stayed on, despite the error. It was my mistake, and since this is a completely volunteer effort on the part of everyone doing SP3, I think some honest mistakes can be forgiven. Not that I expect people who literally hate us to ever give us the benefit of the doubt — they won’t. Not now. Not ever.

● Larry and Vox ruffle feathers. I get it. If you simply can’t get over the fact that Larry originated Sad Puppies, or that Vox is running a similar effort called Rabid Puppies, nor can you see that Sad Puppies 3 is its own thing . . . well, like I said, those who’d not be inclined to give us the benefit of the doubt, would probably find some other reason to bitch. Even if Larry and Vox were entirely absent from the equation this year.

● Taste arguments get silly very quickly. There is no objective litmus test in the arts for what is “good” and what is “bad” stuff. Plenty of shit on the usual Hugo ballot these days. But then again, some people simply love that shit. SP3 is here to diversify the total shit from which you get to pick. Because the other guy’s shit stinks, but your shit is awesome. Right?

● GamerGate appears to be the one topic everyone is prepared to spout volumes about, but precious few people understand in detail. Almost everyone who got up on a high horse about it, did so with virtually no understanding of the chain of events. They just wanted an excuse to bash (insert target here.) Suffice to say, video games are a multi-billion-dollar industry, and a large hunk of the games played are explicitly SF/F. I see no reason to divorce this segment of the audience (players) just because of a tabloid gamer news kerfuffle that went viral.

● SP3 isn’t anti-(insert victim group here) it’s pro-(insert audience enjoyment here.) Now, maybe we do look askance at stories which include no real SF/F content and which involve imaginary dinosaur revenge or a gay dude getting soaked, but this is because we remember when SF/F was about swords, dragons, knights, bold princesses, brave heroes, massive starships, interplanetary quests, and the far-flung — and hopeful! — destiny of humankind. We’d like to see more of that, actually. Without having (insert politically progressive cult-of-social-justice finger) waved in our faces.

● If the above statement just mortally offended you . . . oh well.

● We cannot speed dial eternity, to ask Jim Baen what he would have thought of Sad Puppies 3. There is one individual who knew Jim probably better than Jim knew himself, and she’s okay with Sad Puppies 3. All she asked of us is that we try to be on our best behavior. As the guidon-carrier for SP3 I have taken her advice to heart. And I’ve avoided hyperbole as much as I am able, given some of the ignorant and caustic vitriol hurled in my direction.

● Anyone who thinks SP3 is fringe, or that SP3 is a tiny group trying to vainly make a dent in the Hugo selection process against “the will of the people” as it were, hasn’t been paying attention to the will of the people. Again, one third of the upper bowl at a Final Four Game, versus all the crowds at all the Superbowls, ever, combined. Plus tailgaters. SP3 is merely tapping them on the shoulder and saying, “See this thing? You get to have a say too.”

● First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they fight you, then you win. SP1 and SP2 were stage 1 (“ignore”) and now SP3 is on to stage 2 (“mock”) so I imagine SP4 and iterations beyond will reach stages 3 and 4. I won’t be holding the guidon next time, but somebody will. And there ‘aint a damned thing the gaspers and hand-wringers can do about it.

A final thought, as to setting up a whole new award. It might come down to it, if the denizens of the nail house invent ways to keep out people they deem to be not “real” according their definition. But the field already has numerous awards. The Hugo is perhaps the only touchstone which is still more or less recognized to be a “ground floor” accolade, with history that goes back to the post-war period and the Campbell era. The time when Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov bridged the gap between the pre-war pulps, and the Vietnam-era New Wave.

In this sense, the Hugo is like the Stanley Cup. Each final ballot adds a new stack or layer to the bottom of the cup, with names inscribed on it. Not everyone will be a winner. Not everyone takes the cup home. But their names (and the names of their works) will still be inscribed on that cup for all time.

Which is where my personal motivation comes in: there are authors and editors in this field who’ve labored for years, or even decades, without recognition. Some of them are men and women I admire. Some of them are men and women who’ve become my friends. I’ve already had my name on that cup three times. I would like to see their names on that cup too. If for no other reason than I think they deserve to be counted. We were here, and we were part of this field. This includes indie authors and authors going great guns in non-traditional ways. It includes fresh, new authors who’d struggle to get noticed. People with talent and skill. And also publications and editors who aren’t on the “usual suspects” list, therefore the Hugo passes them by.

If there were another touchstone of equal merit, SP3 would be barking up that tree.

But the Hugos are the Hugos are the Hugos. And, love ’em or hate ’em, they belong to all of us.

My FANifesto

Having read my friend Rob’s delightful piece this morning, I thought I’d follow; with a few thoughts of my own.

I am a fan.

I never needed to go to cons to prove it.

I also never had to pass a fan knowledge or political litmus test.

I became a fan the moment Apollo and Starbuck first hit their TURBO buttons and blasted out of the Galactica’s launch tubes.

I became a fan because the crew of the Phoenix daily saved Earth from the plots of Zoltar, and planet Spectra.

I became a fan because Lando said “Punch it!” and Luke brazenly challenged Vader thus: “You’ll find I’m full of surprises!”

I became a fan because Admiral Kirk looked into the viewscreen and taunted, “I’m laughing at the superior intellect.”

I became a fan because Lynda Carter captivated, as Princess Diana.

I became a fan because Erin Gray was the boss, as Colonel Deering.

I became a fan because Roy Fokker showed Rick Hunter how to fight the Zentraedi war machine.

I am a fan because, for Jack Burton, it was all in the reflexes.

I am a fan because the Enterprise boldly went where no one had gone before.

I am a fan because of Han Solo’s Revenge.

I am a fan because of The Artifact.

I am a fan because, “Death came quietly to The Row.”

I am a fan because Picard said, “Make it so.”

I am a fan because a coward learned to have courage.

I am a fan because of Diane Duane and A.C. Crispin.

I am a fan because of Orson Scott Card and Larry Niven.

I am a fan because of Red Mars and A Fire Upon The Deep.

I am a fan because Samwise the gardener carried Frodo the ringbearer up the slopes of Mount Doom.

I am a fan because of Kzinti, Pierson’s Puppeteers, Protectors, and Grendels.

I am a fan because no matter what the universe throws at us, mankind will find a way to prevail.

As a fan, I want to adventure to new worlds, with new civilizations.

As a fan, I prefer that my heroes be manly and courageous.

As a fan, I prefer that my heroines be strong as well as beautiful.

As a fan, I prefer that my villains be deliciously villainous.

As a fan, I believe in real endings that inspire.

As a fan, I like it when they get married happily every after!

As a fan, I reject all criticisms that begin with, “You’re not a real fan, if . . .”

As a fan, I reject cynicism, nihilism, moral ambiguity, and various other assassins of hope.

As a fan, I embrace the sinner, while rejecting the sin.

As a fan, I want a story, not a sermon.

As a fan, I don’t want to be talked down to.

As a fan, I do not want to be lectured.

As a fan, I don’t need you to check my “privilege” for me.

As a fan, I don’t need my soul policed.

As a fan, I embrace content of character, over color of skin.

I remain a fan, because I want to experience a bona fide sense of wonder.

I remain a fan, because my lusty eyes are forever turned upward to the stars.

I remain a fan, because I believe in having fun.

And nobody can ever take any of that away from me.

Amen.

Ladies and gentlemen, the floor is yours. Please share your FANifestos.

SAD PUPPIES: visual numbers, and who gets to be a ‘real’ fan?

ALERT: Larry Correia is doing a terrific Book Bomb for the SAD PUPPIES 3 novella nominees! Please go check out Larry’s page and support John C. Wright, Arlan Andrews, and Tom Kratman’s work! These are quality writers who deserve to be recognized, but they deserve to be read and enjoyed more.

Now . . .

A friend recently posed an interesting question: how do the attendance numbers for Worldcon compare, year to year? Accurate stats are a little difficult to come by. But thanks to the magic of Wikipedia there are some approximate stats, going all the way back to the inception of the convention. So let’s take a look at them in visual form, starting with a snapshot of totals for all Worldcon conventions, both U.S. and international:

That graph is pretty saw-toothed, mostly because international Worldcons tend to draw fewer attendees than U.S. Worldcons, with the outlier being Loncon 3, which (in 2014) had over 10,000 memberships. That was also the same year (not coincidentally?) that SAD PUPPIES 2 strongly encouraged fans of all stripes (who’d not previously been involved with Hugo award voting) to get involved. Thus there can be something of a disparity between memberships (which anyone can buy) and attendance, which is sometimes lower.

So, let’s look at another graph reflecting only U.S. Worldcon attendance without SAD PUPPIES putting its collective paw on the scale:

Still somewhat saw-toothed, but notice that the left half of the graph still reflects the relatively low numbers typified by Worldcon overall. This was because from the 1950s through the early 1970s, Science Fiction (and Fantasy) were still a fairly “closed” and combined field. The typical trajectory for most writers was to come up through the pages of the magazines, then do books. And the total number of books being printed was fairly small compared to what it was by 1985. Likewise, the total number of teenagers and adults who readily identified as SF/F fans was relatively small, compared to what it was by 1985. So Worldcon attendance was modest.

But look at what happened from about 1985 onward:

The blue portion of the graph is Worldcon. The orange portion is San Diego Comic Con. Note that San Diego Comic Con also began life with relatively low attendance numbers, which roughly matched those of Worldcon, right up until the middle of the 1980s. At which point things began to change drastically.

Now, it’s a truism that correlation does not mean causation. But I want to reiterate some things which I’ve been saying in this blog space since at least 2009, and which I’ve been repeating again since SAD PUPPIES 3 kicked off earlier this year.

1) Star Wars changed everything. Kris Rusch noted this ten years ago. Star Wars was the first mainstream fiction franchise to not only put SF/F on the international movie-making map as a source for blockbusters, it also gave birth to legions of enthusiasts all between the ages of 6 and 30. Suddenly, SF/F wasn’t just that dorky thing a few of the highschool kids and some dippy Star Trek fans did in their garages anymore. Star Wars was everywhere. It was omnipresent. Talked about at the office water tower, as well as in the gym locker rooms. Jocks could now be counted as fans. Businessmen. House wives. Fifth graders. You name it, people were excited about these movies, and they weren’t afraid to show it.

2) Once Star Wars altered the movie-making map, other franchises followed suit. Star Trek was revived on both the large and small screens. Indiana Jones successfully translated the pulp tradition for a contemporary 1980s audience. Close Encounters of the Third Kind gave us a non-B.E.M. iteration of the classic alien visitation tale. And studios began making SF/F an integral part of their yearly production plans. Because these movies were raking in the cash, while also raking in the audience. Terminator and Terminator 2 being two very notable examples. But they weren’t the only ones. The 1980s and 1990s saw hundreds of SF/F films and television shows hit the big and small screens. Spawning hundreds of millions of fans world-wide.

3) But these new fans weren’t “fans” according to the old guard who held court yearly at Worldcon. For “fandom” all of SF/F could still be contained within the literary tradition. There were obligatory nods to the motion picture and television industry, but “fandom” itself still carried on with a conversation largely internal to itself, while the explosively expanding body of total fans became truly enormous. No longer was the enterprise of SF/F contained strictly within a specific tradition, nor a specific mode, more even a specific group of cross-talking individuals. SF/F went “big” and it never looked back. If SF/F was once a garage-time activity, it went to Hollywood, took over the popular imagination, and remade the popular social landscape in its own image. All while “fandom” preferred to keep things small.

4) For fans (general) one of the new, prominent national gatherings, was San Diego Comic Con. If once SDCC had been a smallish affair similar to Worldcon, it eventually rose to become the preeminent popular expose for all things SF/F, with special emphasis on comics, movies, television, and gaming properties. Movie stars eventually began making regular appearances at SDCC, as part of promotional junkets put on by studios. SDCC therefore came to reflect — more than any other con — the successful subsuming of mainstream culture by SF/F culture, such that a runaway synergy occurred. No longer could the two things be said to be separate or distinct: SF/F culture, and mainstream culture. Not with the list of top-grossing films of all time being dominated at length by SF/F franchises. Likewise, not with SF/F books and television enjoying so much lucrative appeal.

So here we are in 2015, and everybody is a fan in some way. They have either a favorite movie or series of movies they like. Perhaps a game, or series of games? Maybe there is a television program they enjoy? And in each instance, the property in question is explicitly SF/F. You literally can’t take SF/F out of mainstream culture. By the same token, you cannot take mainstream culture out of SF/F.

Much to the chagrin of “fandom” which has (unfortunately) preferred to keep itself small. Inclusion comes with a bit of a price: you have to adopt the look, the lingo, the historical knowledge, and the prejudices of “fandom” before someone who is a fan gets to be someone who is a Fan. And there is huge resentment on the part of “fandom” if a group of people who are not properly acculturated to “fandom” come tromping through the Worldcon door; either literally, or digitally (in the form of Hugo nominations and votes.)

It is perhaps inevitable that SF/F “fandom” reacts with confusion or hostility, to people who don’t display the correct social markers, taste, and mindset. But as one fan put it so well recently, the days when “fandom” could be the arbiter of who is and is not a FAN, are gone. Dead. Done. There is no gate any more. There are no walls. The ghetto has been razed and paved over to make way for a Cineplex 16. Some fans enjoy and roll with the change. A bullish SF/F market has also meant the diversification and expansion of “flavors” from which to pick. But other “fans” dislike this open-market phenomenon, preferring to keep the trappings of the “small” era, while selectively choosing which aspects of the “big” era to adopt.

One such aspect being the enormous new push for SF/F that devotes time to pondering racism and ethnicity problems, gender and sexuality problems, and the doctrines of academic complaint, as typified by gender studies, racial studies, and certain strains of socialist economic theory. Likewise, climate change has become a favorite point of focus, to include a fair amount of dystopian and Cautionary Tale fiction.

The only problem with this being that many of the fans (big) who have continued to be enthusiastic about the BIG market, have lost interest in the literary scene. If they came to the table for the spaceships, laser blasters, and photon torpedoes in the 1970s and 1980s, they have gradually walked away from the (often) morally ambiguous, socially-conscious books and stories that began to achieve preeminence at the end of the 1990s. You could still find rousing space opera, as well as plausible “nuts and bolts” hard science fiction. But the number of stories and books devoted to social issues (especially the “subvervise” type which tend to take sidelong swipes at Western cultural traditions, and especially U.S. standards and social conventions) grew dramatically.

Pretty soon, the BIG market began to distrust the very thing it had once found reliable. SF/F in print was missing the mark, with a growing percentage of people.

So, as of 2014, we’ve witnessed yet another contraction of the traditional publishing sales numbers, for SF/F. Some of which can be attributed to e-sales altering the marketing landscape. Some of which can also be attributed to consumers having a much wider array of entertainment options than they did in the 1950s and 1960s, when SF/F movies and television tended to struggle (for matters of production value, scripting, and special effects technology) and video games did not yet exist.

But the evidence is clear. Fans have been disappointed. Both of the articles I previously linked above, talked about this. As well as the wall-building attitudes of those who seem to think that keeping “fandom” a matter of inside-baseball — and expecting outsiders to conform to “inside” attitudes, social mores, knowledge, conventions of thinking, and so forth — is a net positive. So, while “fandom” works overtime to prove its inclusivity (affirmative action for the sake of gender, ethnicity, and sexuality issues) “fandom” is still very much an exclusive operation: because if you’re not the right kind of fan, you don’t really get to be a “fan” you see.

And no, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either.

I came of age being a FAN of things like Robotech and the original Battlestar Galactica. For several years, my SF/F reading was almost exlusively Star Trek tie-in novels. Some of which remain among the best SF I think I’ve ever read; thank you, A.C. Crispin and Diane Duane! I fell in love with the original SF/F of people like Stephen R. Donaldson, Orson Scott Card, Chris Bunch & Allan Cole, and W. Michael Gear. I got the writing bug while reading Larry Niven, and typing away at scripts for a little home-spun space opera serial airing on a local community radio station. I am not “of fandom” but I absolutely and without reservation claim the right to be a FAN, dammit. And if you try to tell me (or anyone else) we don’t belong . . . I hate it for you, bro. I’m up there with the orange people, where the genre and the industry lives. The blue people don’t “own” this field, nor are they the sole arbiters of what is quality, or worth noticing.

SPECIAL NOTE: and for that too-big-for-his-britches writer who seemed to be bragging about being out of contracts with TOR, while also telling us he’s too good for BAEN, but BAEN would throw him a contract anyway because he’s just that awesome, but he’d turn it down because BAEN can’t pay him what he thinks he’s worth . . . dude, don’t flatter yourself. Better men than you have gone to Toni Weisskopf (hat in hand) and said (like Ripley from Aliens) “Is there anything I can do?” Toni’s reply will be like Apone’s: well I d’know, is there anything you can do?? BAEN hasn’t been waiting breathlessly for your arrival on the BAEN doorstep. I am not sure anyone else has been waiting breathlessly, either.

SAD PUPPIES: the march of the straw men

Ever since this Breitbart article appeared, a small legion of straw man arguments have been deployed against the current season of SAD PUPPIES. I was going to type up a very looooooooong rebuttal to the straw men, but Larry Correia and Sarah Hoyt already did the heavy lifting for me. Much of what I might have said, they say with superior gusto and humor. It’s a blessed thing having friends such as these. Not just under the Baen banner per se, but under the general banner of colleagues who’d like to see the field return itself to a more balanced state of being.

What I can add, I will try to add with clarity. But first, I want to frame things with this beautiful analogy, courtesy of Dave Freer:

The reality is this –- According to [Publishers Weekly] the print sales for Sf/fantasy in the last three years have declined catastrophically (and according to the same source, e-books have plateaued). While there is an element of GIGO in the PW figures (they rely on Bookscan, which captures ~30% of my sales, and Bowker, which not everyone uses) the trend in Traditionally published sf/fantasy is clear, and the most conservative estimate would have sales about 30% down in the last 5 years. The actual figure is possibly a lot higher. Given economic conditions –- fiction sales are normally counter-cyclical, like camping gear and seeds, and beer, we should be asking hard questions about what is happening in our genre. It’s probable that Brad Torgersen has a point.

Talking of probabilities: as roughly 10-15% of any population fit on the ‘ends’ of the political spectrum, with the population (AKA readers) tend to be more or less a normal distribution on that curve. The Hugo awards –- pre 1990 anyway — historically have been socio-politically representative, and (in context with their times) considerably more welcoming than other fields to writers of different skin color, sexual orientation and both sexes. Outspoken liberals, and outspoken conservatives and libertarians won or were nominees. Of course the bulk of authors were demographically representative of the possible readership, in that they were not outspoken supporters of any extreme of the political spectrum.

To put this in a simple way, think of the chances of Hugo nomination going to left or right ends as represented by a six sided dice throw.

There is ~ 17% chance of any number –- so if we call left 6 and right 1, we should get an equal chance every time we throw (nominate) of either left or right. About 2/3 of the time it will be neither. If that’s true, the competition is fair. If you somehow get five nominations in one category that are all 6 something is wrong. Any casino would regard the dice with suspicion.

Try it yourself. Count the number of tries it takes to throw five 6s in a row. Try doing this, to simulate multiple years for multiple categories. It is billions-to-one improbable with fair dice. If you threw a fraction of the Hugo 6s in a casino –- they’d ban you for life.

So: There is bias in the Hugos, and it probably isn’t the authors (unless they are lobbying) or the voters, but the various activist lobbies. That is the message from the Sad Puppies. And yes, if a 6 is thrown more than 17% of the time . . . the Sad Puppies prove their point and win. If their being there makes a 1 come up, they also win. And if a 6 wins yet again, it’s a Pyrrhic victory.

The contention has been made (by SAD PUPPIES’ detractors) that SP is nothing but a bunch of spoilsport right-wing whiners who want to turn the Hugos (and SF/F as a whole) into a monocultural mirror which looks and reads and sounds just like us. I guess that’s a natural assumption coming from individuals who are already part of the extant monoculture.

But here’s the truth of it. And I am going to borrow Dave’s eloquently succinct D6 analogy. Once upon a time in this field, at the Hugo awards, you could roll the dice ten times, and come up with something like this: 1, 5, 3, 2, 6, 2, 4, 5, 1, 6. The awards did not skew exclusively to one particular ideology, nor even a particular style, nor a specific artistic and creative sensibility. Beginning in about 1995, however, the dice rolls began to change. Over the past 20 years, the mean representative has shifted so that now your average Hugo winner and nomination list is like this: 6, 6, 5, 6, 4, 6, 6, 5, 6. A heavy skew to one side of the spectrum, both in terms of the types of stories and books that are nominated and win, as well as in terms of the authors (and their ideologies) which appear on that list.

SAD PUPPIES stands accused of wanting a 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1 pattern.

I’ll state for the record right now that this is false. And I can speak for the whole of the SP3 braintrust.

What we want is for the Hugos (and the field as a whole) to go back to being 2, 6, 1, 3, 3, 4, 6, 1, 2, 5. Because not only is a 6, 6, 6, 5, 6, 6, 4, 5, 5, 4 pattern showing spectacular bias, it’s causing two-thirds of the readership to drift away. That’s not a rhetorical trick. The trad pub numbers reflect the decrease, and have been reflecting it for the past 20 years. Literary SF/F is dangerously close to vanishing up its own asshole. And becoming an intellectual plaything for a tiny audience.

As someone who became a reader (and a fan) right on the healthy side of the present trough (1985-1995) I think trying to bring the genre (and the Hugos in particular) back to where they used it be, is a worthwhile project. Not because I want to invert the present monocultural dominance, but because I think monoculturalism itself is unhealthy; and puts the lie to the notion that the Hugos or SF/F pursue “diversity” — by catering to one side of the dice.

I also want to address the whole “Propriety demands that nobody log-roll” argument.

I think that would be a fine sentiment . . . in a vacuum. In a perfect world, every single Hugo voter would be voting purely from a standpoint of singularly-informed enjoyment. But let’s face it. Pushes and campaigns and log-rolling have been happening for a long time. I myself can think of at least a dozen instances of “quiet” campaigning, of which I’ve become aware in the past 5 years. Instances where one particular author or editor has made either direct appeals to friends and cohorts, or there has been a concerted effort on the part of said editor’s or author’s fans and supporters, to boost said editor/author above the level of the white noise that sometimes clouds the nomination and voting process.

There are also “flash crowd” campaigns, such as the one which saw Chicks Dig Time Lords make, and then win, its respective category for its year. There were certainly more sage and scholarly related works competing with Chicks Dig Time Lords, but as one veteran said to me before the final vote, “You’ve got probably thirty women writing and editing in that book, and all of them have lots of friends. Of course it’s going to win.”

So, while I am sympathetic to the notion that pushes, campaigns, and log-rolling shouldn’t be a factor, you have to face the reality that the Hugos haven’t really been free of such things for many years. If they ever were at all?

Then there is present-tense evidence of “what I want to win” slates and crystal-ball wish-fulfillment lists. Some of which spring up before the dust has even settled from the last Hugo season. I liken these to the Nebula awards ballot and winners lists, both of which tend to have an uncanny influence on what will show up on the Hugo ballot, if not the Hugo winners list proper. Because thousands (tens of thousands?) of eligible works are published every year — and that number is growing — many voters will tend to rely on bellwethers to point the way. A prominent media blogger, fanzine writer, or other interested party can post his or her wish list, and have an inordinate amount of influence over the selection process.

So, I think we can dispense with the accusation that SAD PUPPIES is doing something that is not done, or has not been done, for the sake of ethics. There is no ethic. A rule that is endlessly violated, is no longer a rule. It might be a quaint sentiment. But it’s useless. And arguing from a standpoint of propriety — in this context — is either naive, or obtuse. Or just flat out dishonest. Look, just about everybody who cares, is getting in on some form of boosterism. To include anti-boosting, in the form of voting “no award” or otherwise trying to spike a specific work’s or author’s chances come awards time.

In closing, SAD PUPPIES merely follows Orwell’s admonition, “we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” SAD PUPPIES points to the skew and bias and says, “See here, there is skew and bias.” SAD PUPPIES points to worthy authors and works who deserve a chance at a Hugo, and says, “They deserve a nomination every bit as much as the guy who got three dozen nominations.” SAD PUPPIES declares that SF/F is not a progressives-only club, and that actual diversity (within the field) requires that the Hugo ballot should, like, you know, be diverse.

Of course, don’t just take our word for it:

Mr. Torgersen,

I have reviewed this controversy from the bald spot to the smelly misshapen toenails and I find your analysis accurate. I therefore let it be known to one and all that you have at least one former Worldcon Co-Chaircreature in support of the… underage dogs.

Ron Zukowski, ConFederation, the 44th WorldCon, Atlanta Georgia, 1986.

SAD PUPPIES: some responses to the fallout

I am on duty this month. I was supposed to be on duty for most of the year, but the mission to West Africa has been off-ramped, and my active duty orders terminate at the end of February. So, for those of you who see me at LTUE while I am still in uniform next week, just know that I am squeezing the conference in around my Army time.

Now, to the matter of fallout; from the SAD PUPPIES 3 slate.

People always get upset when the status quo is challenged. Nobody has to like SP3. Many may even hate SP3, and in turn hate those of us who’ve chosen to participate as “faces of the movement” (though I detest the word ‘movement’ in this context.) What I see happening is a lot of people (loyal to what they perceive to be tradition within the field) standing up from their chairs and demanding, “STOP SAYING THE THING THAT IS BROKEN, IS BROKEN!”

Sorry, folks. I know it sucks having the cage rattled. If I thought some (necessary) freshening of the air (at Hugo awards time) was possible via less confrontational means, I’d happily go that route. But after 5 years of observing how this dog and pony show operates, I’ve concluded that there really isn’t a “nice” way to do this. We (the SP3) can either sit on our hands and pretend the broken thing is not broken — carrying on the with the status quo — or we can speak up; and take the heat.

Others (on the leftward side of the fence) make a great big fat noise about “Speaking truth to power.” Now, the shoe is on the right foot. For a change. Again, you don’t have to like it. SAD PUPPIES peels back the foil on the stale TV dinner. SAD PUPPIES says stuff that many people mutter in confidence, but few have dared speak openly; because they know it’s going to cause an uproar. SAD PUPPIES is specific in its intention: to alter the Hugo awards process such that artists and works which would otherwise be ignored, are not ignored. It’s not a “right wing” thing. It’s a make-the-field-live-up-to-its-reputation thing, by way of the field’s self-proclaimed, “Most prestigious award.”

And here’s the mind-blower: SP3 is not a same-minded collective. We’ve actually had a tremendous amount of internal debate about how to proceed.

For myself, and despite what some of my detractors may claim, I can say without reservation that I am not out to destroy fandom, nor the Hugos, nor do I wish to be an arsonist. In fact, I have argued (within the SP3 brain trust) that being arsonists is a terrible idea. I’d like to see reform, versus destruction. I also knew that being the “it” guy for this project this year (2015) would put my head on the ideological and rhetorical chopping block. Better men than myself have already mortgaged their reputations for the sake of change. I felt honor-bound to take my seat on the dunking machine chair.

Maybe this damages me eternally in the minds of some?

Those who actually know me and my work, know I am not a villain.

And for those who claim I run with villains . . . Larry Correia is my blood brother. I will not throw this man beneath the bus. Look, I get it. Larry is the kind of guy guaranteed to infuriate ideological progressives and leftists, and he makes no apologies. I understand fully that many people can’t stand him. Me? I see this man (in the flesh) all the time. I know his wife and his family. I can think of no one I would want more (in my fox hole) when the chips are down and the bullets are flying. Be they real, or rhetorical, bullets. Larry Correia is a tremendous individual who has taken the bit (of SP) between his teeth, and charged ahead with gusto. I can do no less, during this third iteration of the project.

And Vox Day? I already explained myself on that one, last year. Shunning and ostracisation are the activities of a frightened 13th century village, not the recourse of 21st century cosmopolitans.

Again, if I thought it were possible to freshen up the Hugo situation without ruffling feathers, I’d happily take that path. To echo myself (from 2014) sometimes the expected thing (in this case: going along to get along) is not necessarily the right thing.

SAD PUPPIES 3: The unraveling of an unreliable field

One thing that’s become apparent during this third go-around of SAD PUPPIES, are the many and divided opinions on why the Hugo awards are broken. Much of this conversation is simply a continuation of the debate held during (and in the wake of) Loncon 3. Depending on who you ask, the Hugos are broken because they are either too insular (this is part of the SAD PUPPIES theory) or too easily manipulated by outside voting blocs (the “fandom purist” theory) or because “fandom” itself is still too white, too straight, and too cisnormative (Call this the “Grievance Studies theory”) or even that the Hugos spend too much time dwelling on popular works, at the expense of real literature (the “pinky-in-the-air snob theory”) or that “fandom” simply falls into predictable ruts, and is easily swayed by sparkly bellwethers, such as the Nebulas.

I want to introduce another theory. One that others have spoken of before. I call it the “Unreliable packaging” theory. And it’s afflicting not just the Hugos, but the SF/F literary field as a whole. As witnessed by (yet another spate of) declining SF/F sales at the bookstores.

Imagine for a moment that you go to the local grocery to buy a box of cereal. You are an avid enthusiast for Nutty Nuggets. You will happily eat Nutty Nuggets until you die. Nutty Nuggets have always come in the same kind of box with the same logo and the same lettering. You could find the Nutty Nuggets even in the dark, with a blindfold over your eyes. That’s how much you love them.

Then, one day, you get home from the store, pour a big bowl of Nutty Nuggets . . . and discover that these aren’t really Nutty Nuggets. They came in the same box with the same lettering and the same logo, but they are something else. Still cereal, sure. But not Nutty Nuggets. Not wanting to waste money, you eat the different cereal anyway. You find the experience is not what you remembered it should be, when you ate actual Nutty Nuggets. You walk away from the experience somewhat disappointed. What the hell happened to Nutty Nuggets? Did the factory change the formula or the manufacturing process? Maybe you just got a bad box.

So you go back to the store again, to buy another box of good old delicious and reliable Nutty Nuggets!

Again, you discover (upon returning home) that the contents of your Nutty Nuggets box are not Nutty Nuggets. The contents are something different. Maybe similar to Nutty Nuggets, but not Nutty Nuggets. Nor are the contents like they were, with the prior box. You dutifully chomp them down, but even adding a spoonful of sugar doesn’t make the experience better. In fact, this time, the taste is that much worse.

Two bad boxes in a row? Must have been a bad shipment!

Return to the store. Buy another box. Bam. It’s not Nutty Nuggets.

This time, you add bananas, sugar, and berries. This only makes up for the deficit a little bit.

Return to the store again for yet another box. Yup. It says NUTTY NUGGETS proudly on the packaging. You are sure in your heart that you love and adore Nutty Nuggets! And yet, the magic is gone. This is not the cereal you first fell in love with. The box may say NUTTY NUGGETS but you won’t be fooled any longer. Nutty Nuggets are dead. Or at least they are no longer of any interest to you.

So, you reluctantly turn to another brand. Maybe Freaky Flakes or Crunchy Bits? You give up on Nutty Nuggets, and you let some other cereal woo your taste buds. A cereal that is reliably what it claims to be on the outside of the box.

That’s what’s happened to Science Fiction & Fantasy literature. A few decades ago, if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds. If you saw a barbarian swinging an axe? You were going to get a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women. Battle-armored interstellar jump troops shooting up alien invaders? Yup. A gritty military SF war story, where the humans defeat the odds and save the Earth. And so on, and so forth.

These days, you can’t be sure.

The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation, with interplanetary or interstellar trappings?

There’s a sword-swinger on the cover, but is it really about knights battling dragons? Or are the dragons suddenly the good guys, and the sword-swingers are the oppressive colonizers of Dragon Land?

A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women.

Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues.

Or it could be about the evils of capitalism and the despotism of the wealthy.

Do you see what I am trying to say here?

Our once reliable packaging has too often defrauded our readership. It’s as true with the Hugos as it is with the larger genre as a whole. Our readers wanted Nutty Nuggets because (for decades) Nutty Nuggets is what we gave them. Maybe some differences here and there, but nothing so outrageously different as to make our readers look at the cover and say, “What the hell is this crap??”

Note that this is not nearly as much of a problem for movies and television. You can still (mostly) rely on movies and television to give you what you want. Video games as well. The packaging matches the experience, and the experience matches the packaging. The studios (motion picture as well as game development) understand that an unhappy audience is an audience which spends its money elsewhere. And so the studios don’t usually devote a lot of time to re-inventing the contents of the package simply for the sake of novelty, or to score a political point, or to push some agenda. Films and television which attempt this — a kind of subversive switcheroo — are liable to crash and burn at the box office, as often as not.

When people want and expect Nutty Nuggets, and you fail to deliver . . .

No Buck Rogers, no bucks . . . .

Yet SF/F literature seems almost permanently stuck on the subversive switcheroo. If we’re going to do a Tolkien-type fantasy, this time we’ll make the Orcs the heroes, and Gondor will be the bad guys. Space opera? Our plucky underdogs will be transgender socialists trying to fight the evil galactic corporations. War? The troops are fighting for evil, not good, and only realize it at the end. Planetary colonization? The humans are the invaders and the native aliens are the righteous victims. Yadda yadda yadda.

Which is not to say you can’t make a good SF/F book about racism, or sexism, or gender issues, or sex, or whatever other close-to-home topic you want. But for Pete’s sake, why did we think it was a good idea to put these things so much on permanent display, that the stuff which originally made the field attractive in the first place — To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before! — is pushed to the side? Or even absent altogether?

We’ve been burning our audience (more and more) since the late 1990s. Too many people kept getting box after box of Nutty Nuggets, and walking away disappointed. Because the Nutty Nuggets they grew to love in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, were not the same Nutty Nuggets being proffered in the 2000s, and beyond.

This is not an irreversible trend. But we’re pretty deep into the unraveling, and there may not be enough cohesive force to keep SF/F tied together as a whole. The field may simply blow apart entirely, like a supernova. The different pieces spinning off into the universe, leaving a dead neutron core (or even a singularity) in its place. No more identifiable SCIENCE FICTION. Just SF-flavored war fiction, or SF-romance, or SF-mysteries, or Fantasy-flavored cop dramas, etc. The center (as the saying goes) may not hold.

SAD PUPPIES 3: the 2015 Hugo slate

NOTE: Last updated on 2 MAR 2015. The stand-alone e-book for Ed Lerner’s “Championship B’tok” is now live, as well as an extensive (and very fascinating) interview with Charles E. Gannon!

And here it is! After much combobulating, the official SAD PUPPIES 3 slate is assembled! As noted earlier in the year, the SAD PUPPIES 3 list is a recommendation. Not an absolute. Gathered here is the best list (we think!) of entirely deserving works, writers, and editors — all of whom would not otherwise find themselves on the Hugo ballot without some extra oomph received from beyond the rarefied, insular halls of 21st century Worldcon “fandom.”

Which is where YOU guys come in. Everyone who’s signed up as a full or supporting member of either Loncon 3 (last year’s Worldcon) or Sasquan (this year’s Worldcon) or MidAmeriCon II (next year’s Worldcon.) If you agree with our slate below — and we suspect you might — this is YOUR chance to make sure YOUR voice is heard. This is YOUR award (as SF/F’s self-proclaimed “most prestigious award”) and YOU get to have a say in who is acknowledged.

Remember: only YOU can combat puppy-related sadness!

Best Novel
The Dark Between the Stars – Kevin J. Anderson – TOR (23 FEB 2015 interview)
Trial by Fire – Charles E. Gannon – BAEN (2 MAR 2015 interview)
Skin Game – Jim Butcher – ROC
Monster Hunter Nemesis – Larry Correia – BAEN
Lines of Departure – Marko Kloos – 47 North (Amazon)

Best Novella
“Flow” – Arlan Andrews Sr. – Analog magazine November 2014
One Bright Star to Guide Them – John C. Wright – Castalia House
Big Boys Don’t Cry – Tom Kratman – Castalia House

Best Novelette
“The Journeyman: In the Stone House” – Michael F. Flynn – Analog magazine June 2014
“The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” – Rajnar Vajra – Analog magazine July/Aug 2014
Championship B’tok” – Edward M. Lerner – Analog magazine Sept 2014
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” – Gray Rinehart – Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show

Best Short Story
“Goodnight Stars” – Annie Bellet – The Apocalypse Triptych
Tuesdays With Molakesh the Destroyer” – Megan Grey – Fireside Fiction
Totaled” – Kary English – Galaxy’s Edge magazine, July 2014
“On A Spiritual Plain” – Lou Antonelli – Sci Phi Journal #2
“A Single Samurai” – Steve Diamond – Baen Big Book of Monsters

Best Related Work
Letters from Gardner – Lou Antonelli – Merry Blacksmith Press
Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth – John C. Wright – Castalia House
“THE HOT EQUATIONS: THERMODYNAMICS AND MILITARY SF” – Ken Burnside – Riding the Red Horse
Wisdom From My Internet – Michael Z. Williamson
“Why Science is Never Settled” Part 1, Part 2 – Tedd Roberts – BAEN

Best Graphic Story
Reduce Reuse Reanimate (Zombie Nation book #2) – Carter Reid – (independent)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)
“The Lego Movie” – Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
“Guardians of the Galaxy” – James Gunn
“Interstellar” – Christopher Nolan
“The Maze Runner” – Wes Ball

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)
Grimm – ” Once We Were Gods” – NBC
The Flash – “The Flash (pilot)” – The CW
Adventure Time – “The Prince Who Wanted Everything” – Cartoon Network
Regular Show – “Saving Time” – Cartoon Network

Best Editor (Long Form)
Toni Weisskopf – BAEN
Jim Minz – BAEN
Anne Sowards – ACE/ROC
Sheila Gilbert – DAW

Best Editor (Short Form)
Mike Resnick – Galaxy’s Edge magazine
Edmund R. Schubert – Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show
Jennifer Brozek (for Shattered Shields)
Bryan Thomas Schmidt (for Shattered Shields)

Best Professional Artist
Carter Reid
Jon Eno
Alan Pollack
Nick Greenwood

Best Semiprozine
Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show
Abyss & Apex
Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine

Best Fanzine
Tangent SF On-line – Dave Truesdale
Elitist Book Reviews – Steve Diamond
The Revenge of Hump Day –
Tim Bolgeo

Best Fancast
The Sci Phi Show” – Jason Rennie
Dungeon Crawlers Radio
Adventures in SF Publishing

Best Fan Writer
Matthew David Surridge (Black Gate)
Jeffro Johnson
Amanda Green
Cedar Sanderson
Dave Freer

The John W. Campbell Award
Jason Cordova
Kary English
Eric S. Raymond